Diane Schochet is a former school teacher and the author of Cog Stone Dreams, a thoughtful book which explores the relationships, hopes and dreams of its protagonist Dessa. I caught up with Diane to find out more about it and her road to publication.
1. As I understand it, you first met your publisher in an advanced writing class. Please tell us how that initial meeting led to the publication of Cog Stone Dreams?
Doctor Claudia Alexander, my publisher at Red Phoenix Books and I both enrolled in an online advanced novel writing course at UCLA. I liked her writing. She liked mine. We decided to meet in a restaurant. I liked her. She liked me. We kept in touch. Then one day, she told me she was going to become a publisher. I was amazed because Claudia is a noted scientist specializing in geophysics and planetary science and the project manager and scientist in NASA’s role in the European led Rosetta mission to study Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko which is expected to get very close to our planet earth in 2014. Would she have the time? I wondered.
This is what she told me. Her aunt, Carol Fenner, now deceased, was the recipient of a Newberry Honor Award, two ALA awards and was runner up for the Coretta Scott King award. Carol left one unpublished book to Claudia. It is a great book. So Claudia decided to publish it, as well as my book and some of her own books. I said yeah!!!!!!
2. For those who don’t know, please explain what a cog stone is.
Usually carved from basalt rocks, cog stones look like stars, starfish, sea anemone and cogwheels with tooth like projections that protrude from their round rims. They have been found in the wetlands of Southern California buried with male skeletons, facing east. Carbon dating shows that many of the stones and the human bones are more than 9000 years old. What the stones were used for is a mystery. Magic? Wishing? Dreaming?
3. Your character Dessa experiences quite a lot and you’ve allowed the reader to fully embrace her. Where did the inspiration come from to create not only Dessa, but her family also?
Thanks! I Hope Readers fully embrace Dessa. I was an impractical theater arts major at UCLA, so is Dessa. As a child I told everybody I met I was Jewish, so does Dessa. As soon as I heard the name in a writing class, I knew she would be called Dessa. As soon as I discovered Halom meant dream in Hebrew in that same writing class, I knew her last name would be Halom. I knew she would act and direct stage plays because I acted in and directed plays and have always found theater fascinating.
Dessa’s family isn’t exactly like my family though my father did go into business with a gambler who went to jail for tax evasion, most of Dessa’s father’s story is fiction. My mother did fall in love with a man that drowned but my description of the drowning in the novel is made up. I did hang out with my grandmother. She didn’t know how to read and write. And she did take a homeless man into her room at a boarding house. (I was told the story and didn’t witness it.)
4. When writing, how important is it for you to retain control of your characters, their setting, and essentially the direction of the story right up until the final edit?
The historical characters like Juan Sebastian Cabrillo, the explorer who sailed by Southern California in 1542, Father Junipero Serra, the missionary who started the California missions and Colonel Manuel Nieto who once owned the largest chunk of land in Southern California, controlled me. I wrote the truth about them, doing a lot of research. But there were other characters, based on historical characters, that I changed their names and I became the boss. The man who built the gun club at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands may or may have not been part of the Austrian royal Hapsburg family. In Cog Stone Dreams he was definitely part of the royal family. The richest man in Southern California in the middle of the 1800’s was Abel Stearns. I changed his name and added my own imaginings to his already colorful story.
5. Although the environment plays a big role, the story is essentially one of dreams, human experiences, and love. How would you describe it?
I describe it as a historical, humorous, magical mystical love story, with a murder, Jewish themes and wetlands thrown in. My publisher calls it environmental literature and Amazon puts books about wetlands in their Lakes and Ponds category. For the last two months in the kindle books, Cog Stone Dreams has been in the top 20 best-selling and the number 2 best rated in this category.
6. How long did it take you to write the book?
I worked on Cog Stone Dreams off and on for eight years. And then when Claudia said she wanted to publish it, I did another rewrite.
7. You’ve written a few periodical pieces in the past but what fictional books have influenced your life most?
Charles Dickens. Especially David Copperfield.
8. What do you think makes a good story?
I’m not sure but I recognize one when I read it or hear it.
9. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like to hang out with my family, solve cryptograms, cross words and logic problems, walk around the Bolsa Chica Wetlands (which looks exactly like the Westbruk Wetlands in Cog Stone Dreams), lead the book discussion group in my library, watch television, see movies, go to lunch and dinner with friends and sometimes I make chicken soup.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers hoping to one day become published authors?
My situation is so unique, I don’t know if I should give advice but, since you asked.
I kept writing.
I liked it enough to keep at it and I never thought of it as a way to make a living.
11. Are you currently working on a new novel?
I’m in my final rewrite of The Quentin Academy.
Here’s the gist.
Pastor Paul Flanders starts the Quentin Academy in 1893 because he doesn’t know how to read and doesn’t want the children in his congregation to be illiterate like he is.
In 1935 Pastor Paul’s son Melchior Flanders sets the school standards. He says when the students leave school they will teach kindness by example and change the world. Teaching kindness by example is a Jewish precept that Melchior liked and learned from a Rabbi when he was pretending to be Jewish so he could perform in the Yiddish theater in New York in the early 1900’s.
Melchior’s brother Caspar says, “If you want students to change the world, you better attract rich students. Poor pupils can’t afford to travel. How will you attract rich students?”
“By making the Quentin Academy the best academic school in the nation,” says Melchior. And that’s what happened.
Floyd Flanders became the chief financial officer when Melchior died. He had an MBA from Wharton School of business, agreed with Melchior’s ideals and until 1987 he kept the money flowing by investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. On October 19, 1987 the stock markets around the world crashed and the Quentin Academy was broke.
This novel spans more than one hundred years and is set in Hollywood (producers and show biz), New York (Yiddish theater), Romania (Actors, Gypsies and Jews during World War II), the American West (looking for the Second Coming) and Quentin, Illinois (the Quentin Academy).